cloud forest

Our Work


Land ownership in Costa Rica does not include water rights, which belong to the State. Most rural communities gain access to water, be it from springs or wells, through legal concessions for their water on private properties. Many communities form legally constituted associations to administer, manage and service their water supply, often with no outside assistance. Many of these associations do not own the properties where the springs are located, nor the corresponding watersheds or groundwater recharge areas, which may be pastures or agricultural land.

Eco-Loan Fund

Nectandra Institute’s Eco-Loan Fund (ELF) makes zero interest loans to the water management associations in the San Carlos River basin for watershed land acquisition. Loan principal must be paid in full. In lieu of paying monetary interest, borrowers are required to “pay ecological interest” by restoring, protecting and monitoring the environmental services on the properties they have purchased.

Eco-loans recipients are generally graduates of the Institute’s CUENCAS workshops. Interested borrowers submit loan proposals to be evaluated through an objectively scored, but borrower-friendly, competitive process. Loan approval is based on the applicant community’s water need as well as the capacity and ability to meet both the financial and ecological terms of the loan. For the duration of the loan, Nectandra Institute partners with borrowers to formulate watershed restoration and ecosystem management plans for the property. We monitor progress; we also provide information and networking opportunities, as well as technical and practical assistance. For their part, borrowers commit communal resources to meet their obligations.

Through ELF, Nectandra Institute recognizes and acts on the need for capital investment in the natural systems that are the foundation for all economic prosperity and quality of life.

ELF is currently supported by private donations and the blue moon foundation.

cow pasture

Groundwater recharge area as cow pasture

cultivated farmland

Groundwater recharge area being used as intensively cultivated farmland, purchased and to be restored by the Tapezco Water Management Association with an eco-loan

restored farmland

The same site in 2010, now with dense vegetation almost completely covering the ground and more effectively protecting a spring just downstream that the community depends on for potable water.


We emphasize the restoration of deteriorated watersheds back to natural forest in the shortest time feasible. The Institute’s staff biologist conducts field surveys to provide the baseline information for this work. After loan approval, we partner with loan recipients in order to prepare detailed plans for forest restoration on the acquired land; the plans are based on botanical data compiled from anecdotal information from longtime residents, from governmental agencies, and any published scientific research information. Reforestation is the linchpin of the ELF program to restore cloud forests. Through ELF, entire communities of water users commit to regenerating healthy forests, thereby securing a clean water supply for themselves and future generations.

Manrique Esquivel

Community youths assisting Nectandra biologist Manrique Esquivel (left) during briefing prior to the planting session

group planting

Individual, group, family teamwork spanning three generations, all contributed

record keeping

Tagging, measuring, locating the seedlings by GPS, recordkeeping are all part of the “ecological interest” paid on eco-loans by the communities


Seedling of Pouteria reticulata, one of many native species used to restore

community volunteers

Community volunteers after planting several hundred trees in the property purchased by the Angeles Norte/Alto Villegas Water Management Association with an eco-loan

man planting